Bidding wisely on eBay

By Amy Lin on 28 December 2006 (Updated 8 November 2007) 10 comments
Photo: iStockPhoto

EBay can be the discount shopper’s paradise. It’s where you can find like-new electronics, brand new designer clothes and accessories, and anything else your heart might desire, most of the time for a fraction of their retail price. Well, that’s the idea anyway. EBay is supposed to be the place to get great bargains. As a seller though, I’ve seen some crazy buyer activities that make me wonder if some think they’re at Sotheby’s bidding on an original Picasso. EBay is a tourist trap for the impulsive, competitive, and impatient shopper. But if you follow a few simple rules, eBay can be a gold mine of saved dollars. Keep in mind that I’m referring to things that are easily accessible in stores or online for retail price. Sold out or rare items is of course a different animal and can very well be compared to an auction at Sotheby’s.

Don’t pay more than it costs on Amazon. It seems obvious, but believe me, some go to eBay before they go to Amazon or buy.com and end up paying more than retail price from some random dude on eBay. It’s not a given that things sold on eBay is cheaper than anywhere else. Do a quick search on Amazon to find the price you are trying to stay under.

Don’t get drawn into a bidding war. Most of the time, the listings that sell at an unusually high price is due to a bidding war between two people rather than a bunch of people bidding on it. Maybe it’s the competitiveness, maybe it’s the fact that the bidder has already invested time and energy into that listing, maybe it’s the “just a few more dollars” mentality. Whatever the case, don’t get caught in a bidding war. If you see someone aggressively trying to outbid you, just step away from the computer. Move on to the next listing. It’s the guy who wins that bidding war who will feel more foolish in the end.

Don’t bid until the last minute (otherwise known as sniping). Keep refreshing until it’s down to 10-30 seconds (depending on how confident you are at your speed). Then place your bid. A lot of times people are hesitant to put their maximum bid price because they want to wait and see if anyone else is going to bid. So by putting the bid in at the very last second, you can avoid a bid war and more likely be able to get the price you want. Also, it gives you little time to add “just a few more dollars” to your bid. Bid the maximum you're willing to pay and see if you win. This is by far the most effective way to buy on eBay. There is no reason to place your bid early. You don’t need to advertise your interest.

Look at other sellers’ Buy It Now price. A lot of times sellers underprice their items. Maybe they want to get rid of it earlier or they haven’t done their research. If you see a few auctions that ended recently go above a Buy It Now price that a seller currently has it for, that’s probably a good price to buy it at. Only do that if you see auctions that ended recently sell at a higher price. Otherwise, it’s better to follow a few auctions and try to bid.

Peak times. The time the auction ends matters. If it's pretty late or very early in the day, chances are there will be less people trying to bid at the last minute.

Read read read. Take some time to read carefully the description of the item you are bidding on. People will sell empty boxes, dead electronics, and damaged goods. Some will also hide their price in outrageous shipping fees. Read their description, ask questions, check their feedback, and really feel comfortable about the seller before bidding. There is no shortage of sellers, so be picky.

Hopefully these basic rules will allow you to get bigger and better bargains, making shopping a guilt-free experience at the world's online marketplace.

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Andrea Karim's picture

How many times have I been pulled into the heat of the moment when bidding on an item and ended up paying retail or more? Many, many times. Sniping is a great trick, and I have learned some good tricks from several experts.

1. Open several windows for the item that you are trying to win.

2. Enter an amount in each window, each one increasingly the price slightly. Click "Bid", and wait at the window that tells you to verify you bid.

3. Start with 1 minute left and put in the first (and lowest) of the bids. If no one bids until the last second, go ahead and enter a higher bid at the very last second - you won't get charged the higher bid unless someone else bids as well.

Keep in mind that there is sniping software out there, so you can be up against a machine that's a lot faster than you.

Or, my favorite method for items that are plentiful - bid the highest amount you can stand to pay for the item that is still significantly below retail - then walk away and don't look at it again. If you lose, don't look at the final price. Ignore it, and move on. That way you NEVER spend more than you should on an iPod.

Lynn Truong's picture

The multiple windows with successively higher bids is BRILLIANT. That way you won't feel like you only have one chance to pick a price and maybe pad your bid with a few extra dollars. i would still recommend waiting til it's more like 30 seconds.  it's surprising how many bids you're able to still get in within that time.

Andrea Karim's picture

But more than a few times, I've had bad luck with the eBay clock. I'll bid on something (quickly), with something like 17 seconds to go, and then I'll get a message saying that I lost.

Also important is to not set up too early - my last sniping attempt failed because I got all the windows open and ready something like a half hour beforehand- and eBay locked me out. Signing back in got botched, and I lost out on a fabulous antique that would have made my year.

Greg Go's picture
Greg Go

The bidding war is my achilles. I get caught up in the moment and think "How dare they outbid me! Hell no!". You know the rest.

Guest's picture
Brian

Don't you love the rush of the last 30 seconds of a bid!

Guest's picture
Guest

Try using a sniping program like Ezsniper. That way you put your max bid in early, and don't have to wait around for the auction to end, but you still have the benefits of getting a last-second bid.

Guest's picture
Guest

I guess my only thing with that is, if the cost of something goes up higher than I'm willing to pay, then I want to make the other guy pay very high for it and I'll keep pushing up the bid as high as I can. I guess it's my way of being vengeful. But if I'm not going to get it for cheap, nobody will. But as for sniping, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. It's really disappointing if it fails AND the item you wanted goes for really cheap. It's always someone else that seems to get the items really cheap. It must be karma for pushing up other people's bids.

Guest's picture
Guest

I always just put in what I am willing to pay and leave it at that. Although, I have been known to vengefully bid up items on people who are known snipers. So, if you are going to snipe, you'd better do it every single time you bid.

Guest's picture
Melissa P.

Shame on you for suggesting more people bid at the last second. Earlier in the week I found a one ofThe start bid was very low, unfortunetly since someone started a bid the option of buy it now was over. All week I monitored this item and made my max bid 15 dollars over my staring bid. Long story short someone came in and bought the bag in the last seconds of the auction. I was so disapoined. I went and checked out this person and they have bought almost all of the items someone else had been selling on ebay, so it was obvious they were waiting until the last minute to bid me out.
It was VERY unfair because it was ending at 4am and I obviously was sleeping and couldn't bid again. I REALLY hope someone does the same thing to the person that outbid me.

Guest's picture
JimmyDaGeek

I read these rules and people's stories, and keep shaking my head.

1) What is wrong with sniping?? People complain about sniping because they feel they have the right to win the auction for what ever the price was 5 seconds before it ended. If you win the auction, it's because your bid was the highest offered. Your maximum bid should never be the most you are hoping to pay, but the most you are willing to pay. So what if someone paid a buck more than your maximum. You can't win looking at it this way. When I buy something on eBay, unless the seller is established with an impeccable rating, I always bid less than what I can get it for elsewhere on the 'net at a reliable retailer. This includes shipping, of course.

2) What's wrong with bidding early? Who cares who sees your interest? You know that if you win the bid early, you can win the bid in the end, if your maximum is reasonable and someone else isn't going to try to win at all costs. You don't want to get into a bidding war, you want to win cheaply. If you're going to snipe, do it at an off hour when your opponent is probably not watching.